Recruiting, Social Media, and Creepiness

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By now, there’s a pretty good chance that you, someone you know, or someone you’ve seen online has contacted a recruit or current player via social media.

As it has the last few years, this is becoming a popular topic as we close in on National Signing Day due to the fury among fanbases to bring in the best football players possible. It’s a passion nearly on par with actual games, which is understandable since there are fans who believe their social media interaction with recruits is as imperative for program success as creating an intimidating atmosphere at the stadium for actual games.  That it’s a way to show young players becoming familiar with new programs that their school is as passionate and supportive as any other.

However, there are another group of fans, one that feels like a much larger group, that sees such interaction as falling on the creepy side of fandom. And, yes, it is weird for a bunch of adults to pressure kids they don’t know into the biggest decision of their lives. It’s a selfish thing to do, especially considering we don’t know which of the zillions of other possible things any recruit may be considering when figuring out which college he wants to go to.

Unhealthy as it may be, fans contacting recruits isn’t going anywhere and will likely only get worse as social media becomes more and more accessible and mainstream.  The NCAA has mandated that boosters contacting recruits via social media is a recruiting violation, but they have yet to penalize any school  for that happening, largely because there isn’t a major school in the country that’s innocent of it.  Unless the NCAA decides to make an example out of somebody (and really, does anybody think they’re above that?) this is just going to keep going on.

And when it’s gotten to the point that recruits are asking for the attention, who can blame the fans?  Here’s a tweet from Denver Kirkland, an offensive line recruit Arkansas has been going after:

You can’t expect fans to ignore that. What are they supposed to do? Sit back and let some other fan base show him all the love and let him commit to whatever other school does it?  Like hell. Have you met the Internet?

Besides, what exactly is it about this communication that’s made us draw such an arbitrary creepiness line? It’s not like everything else about college sports makes sense. We track planes during coaching searches. We allow hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on stadiums that are used for public events no more than 10 times a year. Men and women of all ages buy jerseys of their favorite college players and wear them on gamedays (but Heaven help us if we put the player’s name on the jersey, that would be an enforceable NCAA violation, because that makes sense).

FREE Razorback & Red Wolves Recruiting GuidesIf direct contact is what you’re after, there are also several events throughout the year that allow fans to buy tickets to have dinner or lunch with coaches and some even with players in person. Or, fans can utilize one of the multiple outlets that allow you to pay $10 each month to get updates on a private message board from reporters who are paid to call, text, DM (private Twitter messages), or any other form of communication with recruits on a near daily basis – even though any relevant information will be found on free sites within seconds.  This is considered completely normal and acceptable fan behavior.

Fans are so passionate about wanting their teams to win that we’re willing to donate thousands upon thousands of dollars to enhance their program to make it more appealing for recruits and easier for current players to succeed. As a result, we allowed most every school in the country to create a nonprofit foundation to manage all of those resources. And we even tied those donation levels to ticket access (so you can have access to certain $55 tickets only if you donate enough thousands) in a state in which ticket scalping is illegal.

Many of the things we do to satiate our college sports passions are weird. Embracing the weirdness is what makes college football and basketball so much fun. It’s supposed to be a little strange. The Cameron Crazies. Rock Chalk Jayhawk. Woo Pig Sooie.  Everything LSU people do. These are all things that are only passable in sports – we can’t do them anywhere else. These are also the types of things that make non-sports fans roll their eyes at us.

So we can spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours getting as much access to programs and reporters and administrators and information as possible, and that’s okay, but using a free service to talk directly to high school kids who are considering attending your favorite school is somehow irregular behavior.  It’s not like we’re peering into some private diary. What players put onto Twitter is public record and they are becoming public figures the same way that singers and actors of the same age are public figures – and it’s not unusual for them to have follower counts in the six figures without anyone saying a word.

I’m not saying every fan should get on social media and follow these people. I have a personal policy against against following players just because I tend not to be interested in most of the things they say, and if there is something I’d want to know it will be retweeted all over my timeline and I’ll see it that way. But the whole point of social media is to interact with people with whom you have mutual interests, so it makes sense that many fans do follow players.

All that being said, having access doesn’t mean fans should do and say whatever they want. Basic human courtesy still applies. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t harass people unnecessarily. If a player invites positive comments, treat it like wishing someone a happy birthday on Facebook and leave a short and quick note. And if, Heaven forbid, a top recruit chooses another school or plays poorly in a game don’t trash him on his page. Leave them alone.

If you announced on Twitter you were going to have dinner at Chilis, would you want the Applebee’s people tweeting to you and letting you know what a horrible and stupid person you are? I would hope not. Because that would be creepy.

So as National Signing Day approaches, and there are various recruits set to announce their college choices, just a friendly reminder: use social media carefully. There are real people behind these keyboards and they should be treated like people. Several players will officially become Razorbacks and if you want to congratulate them, that’s fine. But if you’re the type of person who truly gets angry because a player chooses to go to a different school, keep that vitriol on the message boards or, better yet, the comments here at Sporting Life Arkansas, not the players’ personal timelines.

After all, it’s time to start speculating on the class of 2014 and that requires your full attention.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter.

Editors Update: We found this article over on b/r that is a perfect illustration of how ugly this can get: SEC Bound 5-Star DE Chris Jones Targeted with Death Threats over Recruitment

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